#5 Paula Angel Hanged Until (Almost) Dead

The only woman ever hanged in New Mexico … twice. It was a crime of passion for which she did not deserve to be executed, her attorney argued.

The year was 1861 and a troubled time of great strain and uncertainty for New Mexicans. Northern New Mexico had become a U.S. territory only a few years before. Confederate troops from Texas had advanced to the eastern border of the state.

It was also an American era when the thought of executing a woman was unthinkable. For most of society, it just wasn’t right.

To this day, how Paula was tried, convicted and executed puzzles and fascinates historians of New Mexico’s territorial law, judicial politics and the swift, cruel way she was punished.

The Last Goodbye

Paula Angel was young (either 19 or 26 records show) when she killed her lover, Martin Miguel, 22 of Las Vegas. He came from a prominent, politically powerful Santa Fe family, was married and the father of five children. It was he who decided that their often-tempestuous affair was over. This was to be their last romantic interlude, and it was. For each of them. Forever.

“Do not be so cold in soul as to demand death of this fair maiden who has been wronged by an uncaring adulterer,” he pleaded to the jury. Five days later she was convicted and Gov. Abraham Rencher issued a warrant that she should be punished with “death by hanging”.

As they embraced, Paula drew a butcher knife from under her shawl and plunged it into Martin who collapsed and died. Paula Angel was summarily arrested and jailed. She was about to become the first woman ever executed in New Mexico.

Like This Wasn’t Sad Enough

Her execution was as gruesome as her crime. After sentencing, she spent days in jail where she was constantly harassed by a sadistic jailer who counted down to her the remaining days before her execution, “I’m going to hang you until you’re dead, dead, dead” he was quoted as saying.

On her last day, she was loaded onto a wagon carrying the coffin in which she would soon be buried. There would be no gallows. A large crowd formed under a big cottonwood that was selected as her hanging tree.

Upon arriving at the site, San Miguel County Sheriff Antonio Abad Herrera stopped the wagon, fastened a noose around her neck and with little ceremony, beyond the reading of the Governor’s warrant, hawed the horses forward leaving Paula to swing.

“I’m going to hang you until you’re dead, dead, dead”

As the Sheriff looked back he was shocked. Paula was gasping and grasping desperately at the noose with both arms. The Sheriff had forgotten to tie her hands.

A horrified, sympathetic crowd rushed forward to cut her down.

Determined to carry out his orders, the Sheriff prepared to get it right this time. Many of the onlookers protested that she had suffered enough and should be set free. But the warrant of execution was re-read, emphasizing that Paula Angel’s sentence was ordered to be a “death by hanging.”

A stunned and sickened crowd watched, as Sheriff Herrera was successful on the second try.

Paula Angel was dead, and her legend born.

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